The new book, Crossing The Finish Line by William Bowen and Michael McPherson will be released today , but some previews raise two issues to for me . The authors have records on 200,000 students at 68 colleges and correctly question whether the entire USA 4 year college system is the best in the world. Their evidence on college graduation clearly supports the notion that US leadership is confined to very selective colleges that are known worldwide. They look at a range of 4 year colleges from most to least selective, and focus on “undermatching”. For example students who had a 3.5 Grade point average and could have gone to a selective college, but chose to go to a less selective college with a history of low graduation rates.
Here are two things to watch for when the book comes out. The control variables in the september 9, 2009 NY Times review are GPA. The authors compare college graduation rates for students with aa 3.5 GPA in selective and less selective colleges. But we know it is much easier to get a 3.5 GPA at some high schools than others. So , the less selective colleges may be enrolling weaker students and this is a significant cause of their higher drop out rates. This would weaken the control variable, and impact the outcome analysis.
Second, they use 6 year graduation rates, but Cliff Adelman in his book, The Toolbox Revisited found that at the less selective institutions a significant number of students take more than 6 years to finish for a variety of reasons. What would 10 year graduation rates show?